Padres’ Top 5 first basemen: Cassavell's take

March 31st, 2020

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only. We also asked fans to weigh in on Twitter:

Here is AJ Cassavell’s ranking of the top 5 first basemen in Padres history. Next week: second base.

1. Adrián González, 2006-10
Key fact: According to Baseball Reference, González was worth 6.9 Wins Above Replacement in 2009. That mark is the fourth highest in a single season for any hitter in franchise history, trailing seasons from Tony Gwynn, Dave Winfield and Ken Caminiti

Born in San Diego and raised in Tijuana, González attended Eastlake High School in Chula Vista. He would solidify his status as a local baseball icon in 2006, sparking the Padres to a division title with a .304/.362/.500 slash line. González would post similarly gaudy numbers in each of the following four seasons, as he quickly established himself as one of the best first basemen in Padres history. He entrenched himself at the top of that list in 2009, posting a .958 OPS with an All-Star nod and a Gold Glove Award at first base. In ‘10, as the Padres made a push for the playoffs, González finished fourth in MVP Award voting. If not for the trade that sent him to Boston after the '10 season, it's worth wondering just how high González might have climbed among the franchise's all-time greats.

2. Nate Colbert, 1969-74
Key fact: Colbert's 163 home runs are the most in franchise history, two ahead of González's 161

There's an argument to be made that Colbert was San Diego's first real star. The Padres' existence began with six straight last-place finishes from 1969-74. But Colbert flourished during that stretch, recording five straight 20-homer seasons from 1969-73. He reached the All-Star team in three straight seasons and famously hit five home runs in one day during a doubleheader in 1972. Those accolades earned Colbert a spot in the Padres' inaugural Hall of Fame class in 1999.

3. Ryan Klesko, 2000-06
Key fact: Among primary first basemen, Klesko ranks third in Padres history in Baseball Reference WAR, Fangraphs WAR and homers, second in runs and RBIs and tied for first with González with 176 doubles

Klesko's tenure with the Padres was strong -- and perhaps a bit overlooked historically. Numbers-wise, there's little doubt he's the third-most prolific first baseman in franchise history. The lefty slugger recorded four straight 20-homer seasons from 2000-03 as a first baseman, before making the move to the outfield. He was a useful piece on the 2005 NL West champs, before giving way to González the following season. Klesko never reached the all-around excellence of González or the certifiable slugger status of Colbert. But he carved himself a nice niche in Padres history with seven very good seasons.

4. Wally Joyner, 1996-99
Key fact: Joyner's .298 batting average ranked second on the 1998 NL Pennant-winning Padres, behind only Tony Gwynn. His .370 on-base percentage was second behind Quilvio Veras

Like Klesko, Joyner never quite reached the heights of González or Colbert. But his four-season run in San Diego is one of the most successful stretches in franchise history, and he played no small part. From 1996-99, Joyner batted .291/.376/.429 in San Diego while playing some excellent defense. He was rock-solid during the team's run to an NL West crown in 1996, then an integral piece on the '98 team that reached the World Series. But Joyner's best season in San Diego came in between. He posted a .327/.390/.486 slash line in '97.

5. Steve Garvey, 1983-87
Key fact: Garvey was named MVP of the 1984 NLCS after hitting .400 with seven RBIs in the five-game series

At the bottom of this list, there’s a three-man race for two spots. Joyner checks in at No. 4 with a combination of counting stats and a strong peak. At No. 5, Garvey has the slightest of edges over Fred McGriff -- for two reasons. First, Garvey's tenure in San Diego was twice as long (and he's top five in plenty of counting metrics, including hits, doubles and RBIs). Second, Garvey's tenure in San Diego is defined by his role on the team's 1984 pennant-winning squad. His walk-off blast in Game 4 of the NLCS is widely regarded as the biggest homer in franchise history. Sure, it's just one moment. But it was a hugely meaningful moment in a hugely meaningful season, and that sneaks Garvey onto this list.

Honorable mentions

McGriff was an excellent first baseman during his time in San Diego, accruing 9.5 bWAR over 2 1/2 seasons with a .906 OPS. Heck, he might be the best first baseman the Padres ever had. But this list is focused solely on each player’s time in San Diego -- and not their potential or their accomplishments elsewhere. McGriff, through no fault of his own, is largely remembered for his unceremonious exit during the 1993 “fire sale.”

Willie McCovey's numbers from his three seasons with the Padres look a lot better when factoring in the era. His 132 wRC+ is tied with Klesko.

Jack Clark only played two seasons in San Diego but his .423 OBP is top among Padres first basemen.

John Kruk bridged the gap nicely between Garvey and McGriff, hitting .281/.389/.421 across parts of four seasons.